PRESIDENT CARTER, by receiving a delegation of anxious American Jews and stressing the concessions Arabs should make for peace, has restored tactical balance to his Mideast policy. He has also reduced chances for a bruising collision with Menachem Begin when the new Israeli prime minister comes here on July 19. Mr. Begin has already turned down the Carter proposals for territorial withdrawal and a Palestinian homeland, but he will surely embrace the third element of the Carter plan and the one brought front and center by the meeting with the Jewish leaders: Arab commitment to "full diplomatic relations, an exchange of ambassadors, open communication and travel across national borders, trade, commerce, tourism, cultural exchanges and free passage of transportation."
But tactical balance, however necessary, is not an end in itself. It can signify stalemate. After six months, that seems to be the condition of the Carter policy. The President has stated the elements of a comprehensive settlement and suggested ways to proceed. But Israel says no on territory and Palestine and the Arabs say no on peace. (As Egypt's President Anwar Sadat puts it, "If we resurrected Jesus Christ and the prophet Mohammed together, they would not be able to persuade Moslem or Christian Arabs to open the borders with Israel after 29 years of hatred, four wars, rivers of blood and massacres.") Each side hides behinds the other's rejection.
The Arabs, by flexing oil power and the specter of another war, ask Washington to impose their one-sided kind of settlement on Israel. This Mr. Carter refuses to do, as in good faith any American President must. Israelis, holding high the values they share with Americans and the allegiances they command, would prefer that the President simply relax and stand behind them and wait for the Arabs to conclude they have no alternative to accepting Israeli terms. But this Mr. Carter also refuses to do. It wouldn't work - or, at least, it would be dangerous - because Arab political dynamics make it exceedingly difficult for them to stand still indefinitely while territory they claim as their own remains under Israeli occupation.
What is the administration's way out? Arab and Israeli inability to accept his concept now is no reason for Mr. Carter to abandon it. He should leave it sitting out there and meanwhile try to put into effect some of its separate parts. These might include some of the "steps" contemplated by the last administration: further Israeli withdrawals in the Sinai and Golan, with such matching Arab concessions as an end to the state of belligerency. And a way should be sought to bring Jordan more directly into the process of determining the eventual status of its occupied West Bank.
This procedure would preserve the Carter concept but would not limit current diplomacy by any requirement that the parties first explicitly accept it. This would provide more time. It could ease tensions and nourish mutual trust by giving Arabs and Israelis part of what they want. And this, it would be reasonable to hope, might encourage further moves in tandem toward the comprehensive settlement that would really bring lasting peace to the Middle East.